Raj Kundhi, Senior Physiologist

Health benefits of swimming

Exercise and Fitness

26 July 2023

Swimming is a fantastic way to get active and enjoy the many health and wellness benefits associated with exercising, regardless of your age, ability, or fitness levels.

As one of the original forms of low impact exercise, swimming really delivers when it comes to the payback compared to the amount of effort you put in and it’s a great non-weight bearing alternative to some other activities, such as running, that can cause damaging impact on your joints.

Swimming is an effective calorie burner1 and if you’re not a fan of getting all hot and sweaty, it could the perfect way to work out.

Raj Kundhi, senior physiologist at AXA Health explains why swimming is good for your mind and body, and offers some top tips to help get you started.

Why is swimming so good for us?

1. Swimming burns calories

If you are trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight, swimming is one of the many effective ways to burn calories.

According to Swim England, 30 minutes exercising in the water is worth 45 minutes of the same activity on land. Swimming breaststroke for just 20 minutes burns 200-300 calories depending on intensity2.

This is equivalent to a jog and 4-5 times that of going for a walk. And because it’s gentler on your body you’re likely to be able to keep going for longer, so the overall benefit can be greater. 

2. Swimming makes getting active accessible for all

Swimming is suitable for people of all ages and abilities. Crucially, because water helps to support your bodyweight, it’s suitable for people living with pain, disability, injury, or illnesses that make it difficult for them to get active in other ways.

In short, when it comes to exercise, swimming is the ultimate leveller.

3. It improves cardiovascular fitness

Swimming is an effective and accessible way to improve your overall fitness and boost heart health and lung function.

This means your body is able to use oxygen more efficiently, which can help you feel more energised and improve cognitive function. And because swimming requires you to control your breathing, it can be beneficial for people with asthma, and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).3

Note that there is evidence that long-term exposure to some chemicals found in swimming pools could increase asthma risk in swimmers.

4. It’s also a form of strength training

Not only does swimming provide a cardiovascular workout, it’s also a form of strength training. It helps to keep your muscles healthy and improve bone strength as you move against the natural resistance of the water.

This makes it a great way to achieve the government recommended physical activity levels5 which now include targets for both aerobic and muscle-building exercise.

Resistance exercise also improves balance, helping to prevent falls and fractures in older adults.

5. Swimming helps relieve joint pain 

When you’re in pain, working out may well be the last thing you want to do, however exercise is a key factor in the relief of existing joint pain and the prevention of further deterioration and immobility in the future. Swimming is the ideal solution for several reasons.

First, as we’ve seen, because the water supports your body weight, it allows you to tone up the supporting muscles and maintain the structure of the joints, without the discomfort of other forms of exercise.

Second, it provides a wide range of motion, increasing your ability to move your joints to the fullest degree, depending on the stroke or combination of strokes you choose.

Front crawl or “free style” stroke allows you to stretch your arms above your head and rotate them, which is great for strengthening shoulders.

Breast stroke can be therapeutic for knee pain resulting from injury, but what’s best for you will depend on your particular circumstances.

It’s important to check with your GP, physiotherapist or other suitably qualified clinicians before embarking on a new exercise regime to ensure it’s safe.

6. It’s recommended during pregnancy

Working out while you’re pregnant offers lots of benefits for you and your baby. Swimming and aquatic exercise get top billing for pregnant women due to the decreased risk of falling and injury, as well as the buoyancy factor that really comes to the fore as you head towards your due date.

Not only can exercise help boost your mood, but swimming can also reduce some of the more unpleasant pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea, sciatic pain and puffy ankles, and because baby’s floating along with you, it’s gentle on your loosening joints and ligaments (your body’s natural response to pregnancy hormones).

Keeping active during pregnancy has been shown to help prevent gestational diabetes as well as reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia6.

7. Swimming is great for your mental health 

Regular swimming can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve your sleep patterns7.

Swimming can also be a great way to meet people and build relationships, either by joining a swim class or attending your local pool.

Swim England’s Value of Swimming report, found swimmers to be more socially connected and engaged in their community compared to non-swimmers and less likely to be lonely; they are also more likely to spend time with friends and family, have more close friends and meet with friends regularly.8

Tips on getting started

Classes - A variety of exercise classes, such as aquarobics or aqua Zumba, are available at most public pools, providing a varied and fun way to get in the pool, motivated by others and become part of a group.

Set yourself a goal - for example, sign up for the annual swimathon. A charity event organised every year, with a variety of individual and team challenges that you can complete in a pool or open water venue of your choice. A great way to maintain motivation.

If you want to learn how to swim - improve your technique or fitness by searching for local swimming classes. 1-to-1 tuition can be good option for some or have a look at a local swimming club, many are open to all levels.

Take your children and join in - kids of all ages love playing in the pool making this a great way for you and your children to get active together.

Ask a friend if they would like to join you - having a buddy to also take part can make it more enjoyable and you can continue to encourage each other to help maintain the habit.

Swimming can be a fantastic way to stay active, providing similar health benefits to other more challenging forms of aerobic exercise and a few more on top.

Its accessibility can also make a it a great choice for those who experience pain or find land-based exercise difficult.


  1. Swimming to burn calories – Harvard Health Publishing
  2. Benefits of swimming whatever your fitness level – Swimming.org
  3. Asthma and Swimming – Swimming.org
  4. Asthma risk from swimming – NICS well
  5. Government recommended activity levels - NHS
  6. Swimming during pregnancy – Fetal Health Foundation
  7. Swimming and mental health – Swimming.org
  8. Value of Swimming – Swim England

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